Former President Donald Trump’s inability to sway conservative holdouts driving the stalemate over the election of a new House speaker is the latest sign of the former president’s wavering influence as Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy attempts to lock down the votes needed to secure the speaker’s gavel.
Trump’s appeals to members of the conservative Freedom Caucus did little to nudge the vote for the California Republican, whom the holdouts say they do not trust to lead the caucus. These 20 or so House members have vowed not to back McCarthy in the 118th Congress, where Republicans hold a slim majority in the chamber.
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Speaking on the House floor Wednesday, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) said that while McCarthy had ceded some demands, the fact that members had to make them proved the California Republican’s bankruptcy.
One source described the motivation driving the push as “extraordinarily personal,” fostered by deep mistrust, with tensions further stoked by disagreements over rules, McCarthy’s handling of political endorsements ahead of the midterm elections, and more.
Trump’s inability to sway allied conservative members is the latest sign that his allies are willing to look past him, a bleak proposition for the former president and current presidential candidate.
“His influence has been greatly diminished. If the president can’t control 15 members of the Freedom Caucus, that’s a problem,” said a source. “He can’t not realize it.”
“If he can’t call up [Florida Reps.-elect] Matt Gaetz or Anna Paulina Luna, whom he endorsed, and you can’t call her up and say, ‘Vote for McCarthy,’ wasn’t that the whole reason why he endorsed these people? So that he can help guide them?” the person said.
Trump has long wielded his endorsements as a political cudgel and sought to do the same with McCarthy. According to one source, Trump described his early endorsement of McCarthy for speaker as “a boot on his neck — I own him.”
Yet the former president’s support appeared to waver as McCarthy failed to garner enough support to notch the speakership Tuesday, declining to back the California Republican in an interview with NBC News while calling into question one of the minority leader’s key endorsements.
Trump later reiterated his support by calling on Republican defectors to back McCarthy’s speakership bid, warning the party not to ”turn a great triumph into a giant and embarrassing defeat.”
Still, McCarthy has rebuffed Trump’s guidance, declining to accept a deal offered to him earlier this week by Freedom Caucus members against Trump’s advice, CNN reported.